What's in a name?
Our hope is in God and in Rory O’More.
Handsome, courteous and agreeable in nature, the rebel leader Rory O’More inspired people and poets. Descended from the chieftains of Leix, he was most probably born about 1600 and he could knock on the doors of many of Ireland’s great houses - the Sarsfields, the O’Neills, the Barnewells and the Ormonds - and claim kinship. But by the middle of the 17th century the O’Mores had much to feel aggrieved about - the clan dispossessed of their lands and scattered to the winds by the English . Moreover, the political situation in England, where the parliamentarians were usurping the king, did not bode well for the Catholics of Ireland nor the transplanted Scots in Ulster who cast a long shadow over the length and breadth of the country.
Rory O’More, a man of courage, foresight and melodious voice, sowed the seeds of rebellion among his relatives and like minded friends. The call to arms promised glory, grandeur and the recovery of lost ancestral lands. Under a veil of secrecy, they gathered their armies of tenants, villagers and vagabonds, all infused by the spirit of the time:
We’ll strike for old Ireland and Rory O’More.
Saturday, October 23rd 1641 was market day in Dublin - a good day to seize the castle, the stronghold of English power. O’More was to occupy the arms store but, into the tightly woven web of secrecy, a traitor had crept and the plan was discovered. The gates of the walled city were quickly shut and all were armed. O’More escaped and travelled northwards to fight with the dispossessed of Ulster:
For the merciless Scots with their greed and their swords With war in their bosoms and peace in their words Have sworn the bright light of our faith to obscure.
Blood was spilled and atrocities committed on both sides. Despite initial success and the formation of an Irish government - the Catholic Confederation - the rebellion ultimately failed. Oliver Cromwell and his 10,000 soldiers marched onto Irish soil in 1649 and decisively snuffed out the last traces of dissention.
And the beacon of war throws its flames to the sky
According to some O’More’s fate was one of ill health and peaceful death. Others say he became a fugitive in his own country, first on the island of the white cow - Inisbofin, off Connemara - and from thence to the Ulster coast to end his life as a poor fisherman.
Picture a snowy, rugged mountain where the few wind sculpted trees offer no shelter, yet people, care worn and ill clothed, gather before a grotto hewn from the mountain rock. Within, a single candle flickers as the priest holds the eucharist up to the heavens in the ancient ritual of the mass. Two men are gesticulating and running towards the mass goers, the cause of their alarm apparent - soldiers are approaching. All flee for their lives.
The Penal Laws, first enacted in 1695, forbade Irish Catholics from practising their religion, their bishops were banned and their schools were, betimes, held under hedges. No Catholic could aspire to professional or civic office or buy a decent horse. Land ownership fell increasingly out of their hands and the majority were reduced to dire poverty. Under such cruel subjugation, or so the English masters believed, superstitious popery would be abandoned by the people. But it was not to be so.
Never losing hope, their devotion to their country and religion began to reap rewards in the last quarter of the 18th century. With the help of enlightened Protestants, repeal of some of the draconian legislation allowed for the practice of Catholicism. Heroes emerged, the legendary Kerry man, Daniel O’Connell being the greatest. Educated abroad, he was suave, sophisticated and mightily persuasive. Energised by his passion, the people roared in collective voice until they could no longer be ignored. In 1829 Catholic Emancipation was achieved. Incensed opponents declared the Cholera epidemic of 1832 to be divine retribution for this act of madness.
One hundred years later there was open air mass once again to which a quarter of a million people marched confidently and freely. A commemorative plaque upon the bridge records that very day when the procession wound its way from the Mass station in the Phoenix Park and towards the bridge, from where the final benediction was given. Symbolically the plaque is engraved with a simple bell, for the time when Catholics were even denied the pleasure of hearing their church bell peal. Thus in 1939, the Victoria and Albert Bridge became Emancipation Bridge.
The Victoria and Albert Bridge
Queen Victoria and Prince Albert paid their first visit to Dublin in 1849. The last reigning monarch to call was portly King George lV who had stumbled onto Irish soil - and into the hearts of the Irish people - in 1821. Then the people built a bridge in his honour. Would Victoria receive the same welcome and honour from her Irish subjects?
Sections of the press, braver and more nationalist in view than in 1821, dared to speak out against what was, for many, an ill timed and unwelcome visit. They had famine, pestilence, politics and patriotism on their minds. Ireland was still in mourning for the victims of The Great Famine. Whatever sympathy the wasted people had left for others was given over to the leaders of the Young Ireland rebellion of 1848 enduring exile in Van Diemen’s land.
But hearts melted on seeing the young, celebrity couple and they received the most Irish of welcomes. Her second visit, again with her beloved Albert, was a more business like affair in August, 1853. Together they were patrons of education, the arts and industrial progress for the Great Irish Industrial Exhibition taking place on the lawn of Leinster House.
In August 1861, Victoria arrived for her last Irish visit of the 19th century and Albert’s last ever, as he succumbed to typhus that December. Following some usual engagements - processions through the streets and military reviews - the royal party travelled by train to Killarney. Returning four days later it seemed fitting that Victoria and Albert should drive across the King’s Bridge, her uncle’s namesake bridge. A change of plan saw, instead, the entourage traverse Dublin’s newest bridge and at the same time opening it to public traffic on August 30 1861. No sooner had the royal carriage rumbled off the other side when it became Victoria and Albert Bridge, though often shortened, simply, to Victoria Bridge.
Was it Barrack Bridge and then Bloody Bridge or did Bloody Bridge become Barrack Bridge? Both names were used by Dubliners for the two or more bridges which crossed the Liffey at this point from 1670 until the opening of the cast iron bridge which now graces the Liffey.
When the first wooden bridge - or bridges - with the bloody history was replaced by a stone structure, the Barracks too began to take shape. Dubliners watched as, first, the foundation stone was laid in 1701, then brick by brick what was to be the largest military barracks in Europe began to dominate the northern quays. A certain measure of relief was surely experienced by citizens as up to this soldiers were billeted with the people in the cramped confines of the walled old city. When the soldiers moved north of the river, so too did many taverns, bawdy houses and brothels.
Still, Barrack Bridge was in everyday use by the occupying British military: regiments in full, colourful regalia crossed and recrossed to the castle; horse cavalry rode out among the people, and privates scuttled back and forth to drills in the parade ground by the river. For the ordinary Dubliner, daily sight of military might was a powerful tool of control. On those occasions when rebels dared, they often found themselves hauled across the bridge, incarcerated, tried and sent for execution from the Barracks - Wolfe Tone met this fate in 1798.
The name Barrack Bridge fell from use when the new cast iron Victoria and Albert Bridge opened in 1861. Little more than 60 years later, the occupying forces marched out from the barracks and across the bridge for the final time. The rebels had won and in time named the bridge for a hero of an historic rebellion - Rory O’More.
The moment the first timber pile of Dublin’s new bridge was driven into the bed of the Liffey, men of great influence and wealth conspired to bring it down. It was 1670, the city was enjoying a building boom, and for those men, aldermen of the city, there was everything to fight for. They did not want the bridge, they had not given their permission for it and they would have it torn down!
Up to this, one ancient bridge had served the people of the city, who could also use ferries which plied their trade upon the river. The new bridge and one such ferry - in which the aldermen had vested interests - were in competition. They could not, of course, tear it down with their own soft hands but the calloused hands of the many young city apprentices would do the job.
In July of 1671, a company of such apprentices gathered to make yet another assault on the now finished bridge. Their dirty work was interrupted by the arrival of the military and in the running battle that ensued twenty young men were seized and taken to the castle. The story turned truly nasty when the arrested men were being transferred to prison. Marched from the castle, accompanied by no less than four files of soldiers, their route took down down the quays and towards the new bridge, where their colleagues lay in wait. In the course of the bloody battle which ensued, the prisoners escaped, many were injured and four were killed. The people of Dublin never forgot the very brutal christening of the Bloody Bridge.